Lots of Sawdust
Over the last few years I’ve tried my hand at making bonsai stands a couple dozen times. I have a background in woodworking starting from childhood and I figured that a bonsai stand couldn’t be that difficult to recreate. At first, this was just a way to have good-looking bonsai stands at a reasonable cost, but more recently it has turned into a desire to create unique pieces in the tradition of both western and eastern woodworking.
If you’ve ever thumbed through an issue of Fine Woodworking you’ll be familiar with the concept of a mortise and tenon joint, one of the foundations of woodworking in western traditions. But, I’d be surprised to find more than a handful of people being familiar with some of the intricate and complex joints that have historically been used in Japanese and Chinese furniture.
First, a look at where we are generally headed, courtesy of a Kokufu-ten show book:
I normally start with creating the top of the stand, the size of the panel is largely determined by the size of the bonsai pot that you want to put on it. Traditionally, the feet of your pot should sit comfortable inside the rectangle created by the outside of the panel and inside of the frame.
The frame for the panel is four piece of wood, just like a picture frame, mitered at the corners. In this case I’m also using an integral through-tenon, which is a piece of wood that will neatly hold the joint together even absent any glue.
With the top done I move onto the leg assembly. The simple elegant look of a three-way miter belies the complexity of creating a system beneath the facade that will hold three pieces of wood together. Glue alone is not enough.
After creating the joinery and fine-tuning the fit of the pieces it’s time to cut the legs to shape. I use a template to make sure each leg is the same. And another template for the aprons.
The next steps will be to do the final shaping in the legs and aprons, then glue them and add the finish. There’s more sawdust on the way.